Now that Joe Rightmyer has made public his intent not to appeal the ruling of Grace Presbytery’s Permanent Judicial Commission which stripped him of his ordination, efforts are underway to make sure what happened to Rightmyer does not happen to others. The cry is rising from all quarters and people are asking:
- What can we do if Joe is not going to appeal?
- How can the General Assembly be asked to rebuke the action of Grace Presbytery?
- How can this injustice be corrected?
- How can the approach of the presbytery be called out of order?
- How can we prevent this from happening again, in Grace Presbytery or anywhere else?
The Book of Order is clear that no one has “standing” to appeal. So alternate routes must be pursued.
What can be done
I suppose it is possible to seek an opinion or even a musing from the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly about the kind of authority the presbytery PJC ruling has beyond the person of Joe Rightmyer and beyond the boundaries of Grace Presbytery.
According to Rightmyer, the stated clerk opined that the case was personal, all about Joe and not nationally relevant. That suggests that the ruling is also limited in its scope and applicability. If the trial was all about Joe, then the outcome of the trial is also all about Joe, sets no precedent and cannot be used to stifle the actions of other pastors in Grace Presbytery nor beyond.
It would be good to hear that officially as “remember what happened to Rightmyer” is already the thinly veiled threat pastors are hearing when their churches raise the subject of discernment with the presbytery.
Another option is to ask the synod and the General Assembly for “an Administrative Review of the books.” In G-3.0108 the Book of Order says,
“Higher councils shall review the work of lower councils in the following ways: a. General Administrative Review: Each council shall review … the proceedings and actions of all entities related to the body, all officers able to act on behalf of the body, and lower councils within its jurisdiction. In reviewing the procedures of the lower council, the higher body shall determine whether the proceedings have been correctly recorded, have been in accordance with this Constitution, have been prudent and equitable, and have been faithful to the mission of the whole church. It shall also determine whether lawful injunctions of a higher body have been obeyed. B. Special Administrative Review: If a higher council learns at any time of an alleged irregularity or delinquency of a lower council, it may require the lower body to produce any records and to take appropriate action. C. Directed Response: The higher council may direct the lower council to reconsider and take corrective action if matters are determined to be out of compliance. In addition to administrative review, review and correction may be sought by initiating judicial process as described in the Rules of Discipline.”
The other option is for a session to pass a resolution, distribute it widely and go on record as standing against the spirit and process that resulted in the Rightmyer defrocking.
Sample Session resolution
WHEREAS, as Presbyterians we believe that “the power that Jesus Christ has vested in His Church, a power manifested in the exercise of church discipline, is one for building up the body of Christ, not for destroying it, for redeeming, not for punishing. It should be exercised as a dispensation of mercy and not of wrath so that the great ends of the Church may be achieved, that all children of God may be presented faultless in the day of Christ.” ( , D-1.0102); and
WHEREAS on January 7, 2015, the action of the Permanent Judicial Commission of Grace Presbytery,to censure the Rev. Joseph B. Rightmyer by removing him from the ordered ministry was punitive and not restorative; and
WHEREAS the Rev. Joseph B. Rightmyer is a highly respected leader at the national level for his work of renewal and reform in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and who most recently served as interim senior pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian Church of Dallas, Texas; having served in these and many other positions with distinction; and
WHEREAS during the period of his service at Highland Park Presbyterian Church, the congregation decided by a vote of 1,337 to 170 to transfer to another Reformed denomination; and
WHEREAS Grace Presbytery was paid $7.8-million by the congregation to retain their property upon departure; and
WHEREAS a review of the charges, specifications, and findings seemed to this Session to be greatly insufficient to warrant the highest level of censure available; and
WHEREAS this Session concludes that the punishment meted out to the Rev. Joseph B. Rightmyer was punishment wholly out of proportion to the charges reported; and
WHEREAS this action, if not reversed, sends a chilling message throughout the Presbyterian Church (USA) that vindictive actions will be taken against ordained officers of the church who disagree with the policies or practices of the presbytery.
Now, therefore, be it resolved on this [date] day of [month], 2015 by the Session of [name of church] Church of [city], [state] in the presbytery of [name of presbytery]:
1. The session declares that the action of Grace Presbytery to remove Joe Rightmyer from the ordered ministry is wholly out of accord with the standards of discipline and is totally lacking in consistency across the denomination and sends an unwanted, improper message that reasonable dissent and differences are not tolerated within this Denomination and the session calls for a Special Administrative Review by the Synod of the Sun.
2. The session asks the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly to issue either a musing or an opinion on the specific question of the authority and scope of the Rightmyer decision beyond the boundaries of Grace presbytery and that that Stated Clerk would remind the denomination of the purpose and nature of church discipline.
3. The Clerk of Session is hereby directed to send a copy of this resolution to every minister member of [name of presbytery], the Moderator and Stated Clerk of [name of presbytery], every session of every congregation within the bounds of [name of presbytery], the Stated Clerk and Co-Leaders of the Synod of the Sun, the Stated Clerk and Moderator of the General Assembly, and to Mr. Joe Rightmyer, 370 Blue Ridge Drive North, Marion, NC. 28752.
If your session approves such a resolution or your presbytery develops an overture to the General Assembly or you come up with some other approach to raise a witness against Grace Presbytery’s defrocking of Joe Rightmyer, please share. The Layman Online (www.layman.org) stands ready to bear witness with you against this gross exercise of wrath against our colleague and friend in ministry.